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Making The Field: NCS 2021 Daytona 500

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season will get underway with the most unique qualifying format of any race that you’ll see all season long — The Daytona 500. Only two cars locked their actual starting position into the field through actual qualifying.

Alex Bowman, who drives the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, will start from the pole. William Byron, the driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro will start second in the Daytona 500.

Like Bowman and Byron, the other 34 Charter Teams are LOCKED INTO the field for the 2021 Daytona 500 and every NASCAR Cup Series event for the 2021 season. However, unlike Bowman and Byron, those other Charter teams do not know what position they will start from yet, that will be decided in the Duel qualifying races.

LOCKED IN FIELD BY WAY OF CHARTER:

  • No. 00 – Quin Houff – StarCom Racing
  • No. 1 – Kurt Busch – Chip Ganassi Racing
  • No. 2 – Brad Keselowski – Team Penske
  • No. 3 – Austin Dillon – Richard Childress Racing
  • No. 4 – Kevin Harvick – Stewart Haas Racing
  • No. 5 – Kyle Larson – Hendrick Motorsports
  • No. 6 – Ryan Newman – Roush Fenway Racing
  • No. 7 – Corey LaJoie – Spire Motorsports
  • No. 8 – Tyler Reddick – Richard Childress Racing
  • No. 9 – Chase Elliott – Hendrick Motorsports
  • No. 10 – Aric Almirola – Stewart Haas Racing
  • No. 11 – Denny Hamlin – Joe Gibbs Racing
  • No. 12 – Ryan Blaney – Team Penske
  • No. 14 – Chase Briscoe – Stewart Haas Racing
  • No. 15 – Derrike Cope – Rick Ware Racing
  • No. 17 – Chris Buescher – Roush Fenway Racing
  • No. 18 – Kyle Busch – Joe Gibbs Racing
  • No. 19 – Martin Truex Jr. – Joe Gibbs Racing
  • No. 20 – Christopher Bell – Joe Gibbs Racing
  • No. 21 – Matt DiBenedetto – Wood Brothers Racing
  • No. 22 – Joey Logano – Team Penske
  • No. 23 – Bubba Wallace – 23XI Racing
  • No. 24 – William Byron – Hendrick Motorsports (OUTSIDE POLE)
  • No. 34 – Michael McDowell – Front Row Motorsports
  • No. 38 – Anthony Alfredo – Front Row Motorsports
  • No. 41 – Cole Custer – Stewart Haas Racing
  • No. 42 – Ross Chastain – Stewart Haas Racing
  • No. 43 – Erik Jones – Richard Petty Motorsports
  • No. 47 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – JTG Daugherty Racing
  • No. 48 – Alex Bowman – Hendrick Motorsports (POLE WINNER)
  • No. 51 – Cody Ware – Rick Ware Racing
  • No. 52 – Josh Bilicki – Rick Ware Racing
  • No. 53 – Joey Gase – Rick Ware Racing
  • No. 77 – Jamie McMurray – Spire Motorsports
  • No. 78 – BJ McLeod – Live Fast Motorsports
  • No. 99 – Daniel Suarez – Trackhouse

However, while the 36 Charter teams know they have a place in the field, there are still four more starting spots up for grabs. Only problem? There are eight open teams looking to stake claim to their place into the field. This means of the 44 teams that showed up with hopes and aspirations to make the 2021 Daytona 500 field, four of them will go home this weekend.

Of those eight Open teams, two have actually locked their way into the Daytona 500, already, with excellent speeds in qualifying on Wednesday night. Now, they will look to advance their position in the starting field if they finish highest of the Open Cars in their Duels.

Here are all of the Open teams vying for a spot in the 2021 Daytona 500 and how they can lock their place in the 2021 Daytona 500 field:

Ryan Preece – No. 37 Cottonelle Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE – JTG Daugherty Racing

PC: @RyanPreece_ | Twitter
Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500:
  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 1
  • Fall Back on Speed: As the fastest Open Entry in single-car qualifying, Ryan Preece can lock into the event on speed, if he is not the highest finishing Open Entry in Duel 21

Ryan Preece and JTG Daugherty Racing are names you wouldn’t expect to be on this list, as they ran the full schedule and had a Charter a season ago. However, their deal with Todd Braun for their No. 37 team Charter was a three-year deal that expired at the end of the 2020 season. When Braun took his Charter to Spire Motorsports, it left JTG Daugherty and Preece wondering what was next.

The team entered into the bidding for a Charter, but opted to play it out without one in 2021. They have enough sponsorship for 24 races, including a primary sponsorship with Cottonelle for this race, and expect to possibly run the entire season, regardless, but you imagine a lot of that hinged on making the field for the Daytona 500.

Despite the nerves, Preece, 30, was able to nail the perfect lap and was the fastest of the Open Cars in qualifying with a 189.135 mph lap, which placed him eighth on the overall speed chart in Daytona 500 qualifying.

Being one of the two fastest Open Cars has locked the driver from Connecticut into the starting field for the Daytona 500, but Preece can improve his starting position by being the top Open Car in his Duel.


David Ragan – No. 36 Select Blinds Ford Mustang – Front Row Motorsports

PC: @NASCAR | Twitter
Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500:
  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 2
  • Fall Back on Speed: As the second-fastest Open Entry in single-car qualifying, David Ragan can lock into the event on speed, if he is not the highest finishing Open Entry in Duel 2.
Locked into 2021 DAYTONA 500 vis single-car qualifying speed. Can advance starting position by being the highest-finishing Open Entry in Duel 2.

David Ragan is no stranger to the Daytona 500, in fact, he nearly won it in 2011. However, a late-race lane change on a restart resulted in a black flag that doomed his chances at victory.

Although Ragan, 35, retired from full-time NASCAR competition, he has returned to Daytona the last two years to run the Daytona 500.

A season ago, the Georgia-native drove a No. 36 Rick Ware Racing entry that was fielded by Front Row Motorsports, the team he’ll drive for once again in this year’s Daytona 500. In a chaotic race, Ragan would wind up fourth in the end.

Ragan has two career wins, both coming in superspeedway races at Daytona and Talladega. If he can keep his SelectBlinds car clean throughout the race, Ragan very well could surprise and steal the win.

Ragan, like Preece, is locked into the show based on his qualifying speed, which was 13th-fastest in Wednesday’s qualifying session.


Austin Cindric – No. 33  Verizon 5G Ford Mustang – Team Penske

PC: @Team_Penske | Twitter

Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500

  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 1
  • Fall Back on Speed: David Ragan OR Ryan Preece finish highest of Open Entries in their respective duel races.

Cindric will lock into the 2021 DAYTONA 500 if himself, Ryan Preece or David Ragan is the highest-finishing Open Entry in their respective duel race.

The 2020 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, Austin Cindric is attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut for Team Penske in the Daytona 500. However, if he is to make the show, he’ll have to do it by working his way into the field through his Duel event, or he’ll need to pull for Preece or Ragan being the highest finishing Open car in their respective Duels.

Cindric, 22, was the third-fastest Open Car in qualifying. This means if either Ragan or Preece doesn’t need to fall back on their qualifying time to make the Daytona 500, Cindric would lock his Verizon 5G Ford Mustang in based on his qualifying speed.

That being said, Cindric is an aggressive driver who truly loves to win. He will most likely not sit back and play defense in his Duel.


Kaz Grala – No. 16 HyperIce Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE – Kaulig Racing

Kaz Grala’s 2021 No. 16 HyperIce Chevrolet Camaro. Photo Credit: Kaulig Racing on Twitter.

Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500

  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 2
  • Fall Back on Speed: David Ragan AND Ryan Preece finish highest of Open Entries in their respective duel races, giving Grala the 40th spot as the fourth-fastest Open Entry in single-car qualifying.

 

Kaulig Racing made the Daytona 500 a season ago with Justin Haley driving their No. 16 machine. Now, in 2021, they rest their hopes of making it into the big show on Boston, Massachusetts’ Kaz Grala.

Grala, 22, has shown a penchant for nabbing great finishes at the Daytona International Speedway through his young career.

Grala’s lone NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win came at Daytona International Speedway in 2017, this is the only start Grala has made at DIS in his Truck Series career.

In NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, Grala has started twice at Daytona, and he has scored two top-five finishes in those two starts.

Hell, Grala even has a top-10 at the iconic speedway in the NASCAR Cup Series, albeit on the road course layout while subbing for Austin Dillon last season.

It almost feels like it would be an upset at this point if Grala is unable to score a good enough finish in his Duel to move the No. 16 HyperIce Chevroelt Camaro into the Daytona 500 field. However, if Ryan Preece and David Ragan finish highest of the Open Cars in their respective Duels, Grala is officially in the Daytona 500 by way of his qualifying speed.


Ty Dillon – No. 96 Bass Pro Shops / Black Rifle Coffee Company Toyota Camry – Gaunt Brothers Racing

PC: @GauntBrosRacing | Twitter

Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500

  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 1
  • Fall Back on Speed: As the fifth-fastest Open Entry in single-car qualifying, it isn’t possible for Ty Dillon to fall back on qualifying speed.

Ty Dillon is another one of those names that you don’t expect to have to claw his way into a Daytona 500 field. However, when his long-time team — Germain Racing — closed up shop and sold their Charter at the end of the 2020 season, it left Dillon, 28, without a home and without a locked in place in the Daytona 500 field.

He has landed with Gaunt Brothers Racing, who have shown strength on superspeedways, and have made the field for the Daytona 500 three times in the past (2017, 2018 and 2019). A season ago, it looked like Daniel Suarez would make it into the Daytona 500, but was swept up in a crash with Ryan Blaney in the Duels.

He has sponsorship from Bass Pro Shop and Black Rifle Coffee Co. for his attempt, and if Dillon can avoid calamity, the No. 96 team should have a stout enough Toyota under him to have a fighter’s chance of making the field. If Dillon can make it into the field, this will mark his seventh start in The Great American Race.


Garrett Smithley – No. 13 Trophy Tractor Ford Mustang – MBM Motorports

Garrett Smithley’s 2021 No. 13 Trophy Tractor Ford Mustang. Photo Credit: Garrett Smithley on Twitter.

Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500

  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 2
  • Fall Back on Speed: As the sixth-fastest Open Entry in single-car qualifying, it isn’t possible for Garrett Smithley to fall back on qualifying speed.

Garrett Smithley is an interesting story, as he has drawn the ire of Kyle Busch over the years, but the underdog driver from Pennsylvania has begun to make a very good career of getting steady and clean results for teams on shoestring budgets.

The 28-year old driver has never started in the Daytona 500, so it would be a big deal if he were to work his way in a transfer position in his duels.

MBM Motorsports does have history of making the field for The Great American Race. In 2018 Mark Thompson made the show in the No. 66 car and a season ago Timmy Hill became the feel-good Cinderella story of the week by transferring into the Daytona 500.

Is it Smithley’s turn this time around?


Timmy Hill – No. 66 VSI Racing Ford Mustang – MBM Motorsports

PC: @TimmyHillRacer | Twitter

Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500

  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 1
  • Fall Back on Speed: As the seventh-fastest Open Entry in single-car qualifying, it isn’t possible for Timmy Hill to fall back on qualifying speed.

The Daytona 500 just isn’t the Daytona 500 without The InTimmydator. Hill who was the unexpected transfer into the 2020 Daytona 500 field by way of the duels, will look to find a way into the field again for the 2021 edition of the race.

Hill rolled from the field from 32nd spot in 2020 in a No. 66 MBM Ford Mustang, which featured Roush Yates power under the hood. Many hoped the underdog could be in the right place at the right time to pull off an upset, but after early damage and being caught in a late-race crash, Hill was left with a 27th-place finish in his first-ever Daytona 500 start.

However, Hill could write another chapter in his rendition of Cinderella if he could make it into the field for the 2021 Daytona 500. With the stacked field this year, this would probably be an even bigger underdog story than his transfer into the race last season.


Noah Gragson – No. 62 Beard Oil Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE – Beard Motorsports

PC: @BeardOil62 | Twitter

Paths to 2021 DAYTONA 500

  • Race In: Finish highest of the Open Entries in Duel 1.
  • Fall Back on Speed: As the seventh-fastest Open Entry in single-car qualifying, it isn’t possible for Noah Gragson to fall back on qualifying speed.

 

If there is a sentimental favorite in the Duel field, it has to be Noah Gragson and the No. 62 Beard Motorsports team. The family owned team lost their leader and team owner Mark Beard Sr. just a couple of weeks ago. Now, they will head into Thursday night’s Duel hoping to make Mr. Beard proud.

Gragson, 22, will carry Beard’s name above his window on the No. 62 car and he has been given full permission by Beard’s widow to let it all hang out. Gragson, one of the most aggressive drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, should be fun to watch even if he doesn’t make the field for the Daytona 500.

Beard Motorsports has made the last four Daytona 500’s with Brendan Gaughan behind the wheel. However, Gragson faces an uphill battle as the No. 62 car was unable to put in a qualifying time on Wednesday after it failed pre-qualifying inspection three times. Gragson will have to start from the rear of his Duel race.

With no qualifying time to fall back on, and the entire field sitting ahead of him, it’ll likely be checkers or wreckers for Gragson as he tries to lift a grieving family and team into the sport’s biggest race.

Toby Christie View All

Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.

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